6×9 Lecture, delivered on Feb 1, 2015 in Herne Hill, London
6 by 9.
HARPER: We are Jesse and Harper. We collaborate creatively under the name Anima Rising, our first project together is our documentary film, Ways of Living.
Anima rising was born at a point when I had stepped away from waitressing and gotten a job with an impressive title and a salary and I wound up watching myself become increasingly depressed at pretending to be this person that I hadn’t ever wanted to become. In addition to feeling sad, lonely and purposeless, I had a constant feeling in the pit of my stomach that it wasn’t the right time or place to settle in and stop my searching. I had to try to feel better. And my instinct was to combine my longstanding and intrinsic admiration for hippies and long-haired peacemakers with my love of travel and to take an epic roadtrip around America, making a documentary about what communes are today, and what it means to live on a commune in 2014.
JESSE: On January 7 last year I got an email from Harper saying ‘Here’s something i’ve been dreaming of doing…i want to take this trip…do you think you’d want to come with me?’ …To which I replied a very enthusiastic and quick ‘YES!’ I was also struggling pretty deeply with my life at this point. Id lost touch with a really important, magical side of my world and I missed knowing myself.
So I flew to NYC. Harper showed me the two things she knew about the video camera that had just arrived in the post, and briefed me on the itinerary of intentional communities, eco villages and off grid farms we’d be visiting, that she’d made on lunchbreaks between shifts.
She quit her job. We packed a very colourful and impractical bag of clothes. We drove away from NY around midday on April 8th, with a sort of unspoken agreement between us to fake it til we could make it, which proved very awkward to begin with, especially at the first commune – but life affirming by the end.
HARPER: We drove from Better Farm, an art & sustainability education center, on the Canadian border of NY, all the way down to New Orleans – connecting with old timey banjo pickers in Georgia and earth ship dwellers at Earthaven Ecovillage in North Carolina, just to name a couple.
We were travelling and filming for about 15 weeks, five of which were spent living in a barn at a commune outside of Asheville. We visited nearly 20 communities, interviewed close to 60 people, slept in so many beds, tents, cars, floors, and sometimes under the open sky with the sound of coyotes in the distance, reading Walt Whitman poetry to each other!
We learned so much about the back to the land movement – how to live and build sustainably, how to grow food, waste less. In addition to getting our hands dirty, we also witnessed how people wove spirituality, love and mindfulness into their daily lives. Nowhere took mindfulness more seriously than at the Rochester Folk Art Guild, centered around the spiritual teachings of Gurdjieff, where more than one person told us they had come to visit for a weekend in 1974 and found themselves still living there today. You can see more about all of this is in the film, visit www.animarising.net to keep up to date. But tonight we’re focusing on some of what the trip meant to us.
JESSE: I’ve always had a really strong connection to the states and so to be driving around the blue ridge mountains and discovering backwater towns and the beauty of Appalachia was so magical and romantic.
It was a challenge to constantly rock up in new places and have to explain ourselves again and again whilst trying to slip seamlessly into another little world. But that in itself was also incredibly strengthening.
Before the trip, I wasn’t in the habit of pulling strangers off to the side, to sit down for a deep conversation about love, spirituality, connection to source, nature, meditation, life – but on this trip we’d find ourselves doing this five times a day. It was so mindblowing to have what we were thinking and feeling mirrored back at us by young and old men and women, rich, poor, from all walks of life – it reinforced a lot to us about the human experience and how similar and interconnected we are.
These human interactions and deep friendships we were forming, coupled with sleeping every night under trees or eating our food from the woods, learning the names of plants and their healing properties, it fortified us and made us feel like we were in the right place doing something completely fulfilling.
HARPER: The trip was such a submersive experience, it sometimes felt like mindfulness bootcamp. And it was energetically exhausting, but it was challenging in a positive way, wrestling with the growing pains of leaving comfort zones that you sometimes miss and wish you could slip back into. But we were like vegetarian sharks and just had to keep moving forwards all the time, we could never get too comfortable, and we were always saying goodbye.
There’s a Tolstoy quote ‘All human life consists solely of these two activities – one, bringing one’s activities into harmony with conscience, or two, hiding from oneself the indications of one’s conscience, in order to be able to continue to live as before.‘
Its like once you’ve learned that drinking coca cola is bad for you, but you still want to drink it sometimes, it starts to taste less delicious now that you’ve learned it isn’t good for you!
Seeing people who have chosen to actually listen to their moral compass - prioritising human relationships, connections with nature, mindfulness, and gentleness was game changing to us in stepping up our commitment to what we believe in. Like, we can’t keep drinking metaphorical coke, pretending we don’t realize the damage we’re doing.
We were so lucky to access this library of knowledge – we learned about consensus decision making, and Non Violent Communication. We attended Zen and Quaker meetings, and broke bread with environmentalists, polyamorists, transcendentalists – trying to insure that the details of our lives don’t just happen to us, they are choices that we’re actively making.
JESSE: Sometimes we worry, sometimes we are TOLD, that we’re being idealistic. Which we don’t deny! It’s easy to feel love, when you’re standing on top of a mountain, with a comicallybeautiful bearded freegan named Brad who’s teaching us to forage for chaga mushrooms, and inviting us into the cabin he’s building entirely from salvaged materials. Not so easy when suddenly you find yourself in New York or London again, and see the enormity of the battle – the implausibility of actually winning the campaign to make a happier world, or even begin to end capitalism and global warming.
Sometimes it’s completely overwhelming and we phone each other and ask, What’s the point? We might as well just go to McDonalds. But then one of us will always remind the other that to keep our blinders on and pretend that the problems don’t exist isn’t an option, it’s far worse than at least trying and failing.
We are far, far from perfect, and have a long way to go, but something we honestly do work on is loving more, caring more, and thinking bigger than ourselves. In the words of Brad, the only real skill you need is to the willingness to try!
HARPER: Even though now is really challenging, it’s also a really exciting time, the future is exciting, it feels like the moment to move all our hypothetical conversations off of our facebook feeds and in to the realm of barefeet in the dirt.
Seeing all these people who live in community – like our friend Louis, a 50 year old who gave up his career & all his possessions to hitch hike across the country and try living at Acorn Community in Virginia – or Dylan, a single dad in Atlanta, who singlehandedly raised our expectations of all men forever by being so wonderful and wise .. meeting people like them and seeing the joy and fulfilment in their lifestyles motivates us to care more and keep going. We believe that people are good and powerful and willing to work together to rise and meet the challenges of our generation, peacefully and creatively.
We’ve learned that it isn’t helpful to sit around and wait for someone else to do something for you, whether it’s waiting for the government to switch your country to clean energy, or deciding to make your first film with no funding or film school experience. Like our hero Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche says, in a video that Llew showed us on facebook, “This world needs your help so badly, on behalf of this world, I would like to request you to come and do something about it.”
JESSE: Throughout our weird and wild days away from our comfort zones, watching an old man eat roadkill turkey guts, or staying up late with an exFBI computer hacker who probably would have had to kill us if he’d spilled too many beans but now spends his days making dandelion wine, we found our footing in consciously practicing gratitude. When things got hairy like our tent flooded, or we had to sleep outside in bear country, or the day Harper backed the car over my guitar, as well as the days when life felt easy, it became practice to breathe and tell each other what we were grateful for in that moment. We became a little bit addicted to doing this, because it reminded us to put things into perspective and see that even when something is going wrong, a million other things are going right.
HARPER: We are so grateful to be here tonight together with all of you guys, and that you’ve given us a moment of your attention. Let’s all remember to give thanks for something we’re grateful for tonight.
Thank you! Peace.